Roman Abramovich has confirmed his intention to sell Chelsea.
ESPN reported earlier on Wednesday that the 55-year-old was willing to listen to offers for the club, and Abramovich confirmed the plans in a statement released on the Blues' website later in the day.
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"I would like to address the speculation in media over the past few days in relation to my ownership of Chelsea FC," it read. "As I have stated before, I have always taken decisions with the club's best interest at heart.
"In the current situation, I have therefore taken the decision to sell the club, as I believe this is in the best interest of the club, the fans, the employees, as well as the club's sponsors and partners.
"The sale of the club will not be fast-tracked but will follow due process. I will not be asking for any loans to be repaid. This has never been about business nor money for me, but about pure passion for the game and club."
Abramovich is under pressure to sell because should the U.K. government sanction him, Chelsea could be seized as an asset. He would be unable to put any funds into the club, and any sale would become extremely complicated.
Sources have told ESPN that Abramovich is seeking around £3 billion ($3.93 billion) for the Blues, but his ability to negotiate is severely hampered by the timing of his decision, apparently influenced by mounting pressure on the U.K. government to seize the assets of high-value Russian individuals with links to Russia president Vladimir Putin's regime following the country's invasion of Ukraine.
Abramovich has always strenuously denied any ties to Putin, but Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer publicly called on the government to impose sanctions on the Chelsea owner at Wednesday's session of Prime Minister's Questions.
"He is a person of interest to the Home Office because of his links to the Russian state and his public association with corrupt activity and practices," said Starmer. "Last week [U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson] said Abramovich was facing sanctions. He later corrected the record to say he isn't. Well, why on Earth isn't he?"
Johnson replied: "It is not appropriate for me to comment on individual cases at this stage."
Abramovich originally tried to avoid having to sell by announcing on Saturday evening he was passing "stewardship and care" of the club to Chelsea to trustees on Saturday.
However, sources told ESPN that the trustees were seeking legal advice before responding to Abramovich's instruction due to mounting concerns that a charitable foundation is not a suitable entity to run a football club, and it appears the move did not achieve the degree of separation the oligarch had hoped.
Sources have told ESPN that U.S. firm Raine Group have been appointed to manage the sale, and interested parties include Los Angeles Dodgers owner Todd Boehly, who expressed interest in buying a Premier League club in 2019. He held talks with the Blues and Tottenham but failed to find an agreement with either owner. Swiss business tycoon Hansjoerg Wyss has said Abramovich contacted interested parties on Tuesday to sound out potential interest.
"Abramovich is currently trying to sell all his villas in England. He also wants to get rid of Chelsea quickly now. I, along with three other people, received an offer on Tuesday to buy Chelsea from Abramovich," Swiss newspaper Blick quoted Wyss as saying in an interview published Wednesday.
Abramovich announced his intention to donate profits of any sale -- he bought the club for £140m in 2003 and is owed £1.514bn in loans -- to victims of the Ukraine conflict. "Moreover, I have instructed my team to set up a charitable foundation where all net proceeds from the sale will be donated," continued Abramovich's statement. "The foundation will be for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine. This includes providing critical funds towards the urgent and immediate needs of victims, as well as supporting the long-term work of recovery.
"Please know that this has been an incredibly difficult decision to make, and it pains me to part with the club in this manner. However, I do believe this is in the best interest of the club.
"I hope that I will be able to visit Stamford Bridge one last time to say goodbye to all of you in person. It has been a privilege of a lifetime to be part of Chelsea FC and I am proud of all our joint achievements. Chelsea Football Club and its supporters will always be in my heart."
Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Britain's richest man, according to a Forbes study from 2021, previously held preliminary talks with Abramovich over a possible purchase.
Ratcliffe's brother Bob, who runs the football division of his company INEOS, told BBC Radio 5live last month that "we were a significant way apart on valuations."
Another difficult element for a potential buyer is the difficulty in renovating Stamford Bridge. Complicated plans to redevelop the 41,800-seat stadium -- which involved knocking the existing structure down and rebuilding a 61,000-capacity venue -- were shelved by Abramovich in 2018 around the time his U.K. investor visa expired. The site's freehold is held by Chelsea Pitch Owners and would not therefore be included in any sale of the club.